How BAA uses IT to find bags and sell an airport

However, IT innovation is mostly less important for BAA than reliability and cost-effectiveness.

Airport for sale

Perhaps the greatest challenge facing BAA's IT - possibly greater than commissioning Heathrow Terminal 5 - will be the disposal of Gatwick airport. Last year, BAA put the Sussex site on the market, in advance of a Competition Commission ruling that BAA would need to dispose of three of its UK airports.

In May, BAA said that it was contesting the ruling at the Competition Appeal Tribunal. In the meantime, the company continues to plan on the basis that Gatwick will be sold.

"We had a policy of sharing infrastructure," says Langsdale. "We have to be able to unravel that, to sell Gatwick. "It is essential [that IT] is not a constraint on the sale. That is now our biggest challenge."

A new owner should be able to keep in place airport systems, many of which are supplied by aviation industry vendors such as SITA.

But a new owner will need its own data centres, separate from BAA operations, and will need to install new networks and back office systems to replace systems that are currently shared across all of BAA.

"When it comes to unravelling IT infrastructures for a disposal, the job of the CIO is two-fold," says PA Consulting's Elton. "Help make the business attractive, by making things easy for the acquirer. Make sure the separation is complete and there is no new security risk created. The tougher job is usually with the acquiring company merging [a business] is harder to do than cutting people off."